You can lead people to paper but you can’t make them read

I want to thank James Taranto for his kind mention of my tongue in cheek post suggesting that the Washington Post ought to advocate for the forced purchase of newspapers.

However, I think that he’s making a mistake in his critique. Taranto writes:

This case involved a prohibition against the possession of obscene material, but surely the principle would apply at least as strongly to Gerstman’s tongue-in-cheek scheme of newspaper conscription. Even if the commerce clause authorizes Congress to mandate the purchase of some products, the First Amendment would ensure that newspapers are not among them.

In the case Mr. Taranto’s citing the first amendment issue is whether the government should have the authority to dictate what individuals read or don’t read. My suggestion was only that applying the Washington Post’s principle, the government could coerce individuals to purchase newspapers, not read them. Even if people were responding to the mandate and buying newspapers to line their bird cages they’d still be helping the industry. And they wouldn’t have to read them to fulfill the “federal government’s interest.”